Clarence Day wrote for the The New Yorker in the 1920s and 1930s. His most famous work is Life With Father, which was adapted successfully into a stage play, a film, and a television series. It’s a bittersweet look at childhood in New York City during the 1890s.
One of the joys of Day’s stories is the good-natured honesty with which he approaches his characters. (Because Life With Father is an autobiography, his “characters” are actual family members.) “Father” is a gruff man — some would say unlikable — but Day views him with love. The book contains many short chapters, most of which revolve around comic situations.
One of my favorite chapters is “Father Tries to Make Mother Like Figures”. Here’s the start of it:
Father was always trying to make Mother keep track of the household expenses. He was systematic by nature and he had had a sound business training. He had a full set of account books at home in addition to those in his office — a personal cashbook, journal and ledger — in which he carefully made double entries. His home ledger showed at a glance exactly how much a month or a year his clothes or his clubs or his cigar bills amounted to. Every item was listed. He knew just how every one of his expenses compared with those of former years, and when he allowed the figures to mount up in one place, he cold bring them down in another.
Before he got married, these books had apparently given him great satisfaction, but he said they were never the same after that. They had suddenly stopped telling him anything. He still knew what his personal expenses were, but the were microscopic compare to his household expenses, and of those he knew nothing, no details, only the horrible total. His money was floating away in all directions and he had no record of it.
Every once in so often he tried to explain his system to Mother. But his stout, leather-bound ledgers, and his methodical ruling of lines in red ink, and the whole business of putting down every little expense every day, were too much for her. She didn’t feel that women should have anything to do with accounts, any more than men should have to see that the parlor was dusted. She had been only a débutante when she married, not long out of school, and though she had been head of her class, and wrote well and spelled well, and spoke beautiful French, she had never laid eyes on a ledger. Every time Father showed her his, she was unsympathetic.
Figures were so absorbing to Father that for a long time he couldn’t believe Mother really disliked them. He hoped for years that her lack of interest was due only to her youth and that she would outgrow it. He said confidently that she would soon learn to keep books. It was simple. Meanwhile, if she would just make a memorandum for him of whatever she spent, he would enter it himself in the accounts until he could trust her to do it.
That day never arrived.
I tried to find a text version of this chapter on-line, but there doesn’t seem to be one. I was, however, to find a rather large PDF file. The file tips the scales at 3.3mb for three pages. But they’re three enjoyable pages. I think it’s worth the download.
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